2020 started horribly for me, and I am not talking about the pandemic which came later. The horrible start of the year forced me to agonise over and introspect about many things that would have never caught my attention normally. The vortex of pain and agony forced me for a much-needed introspection and I tried deepening understanding of mindfulness and meditation. So, I spend a lot of time reading books on meditation and mindfulness. It was not the usual reading from start to finish but more of reflection and cogitation on what I read.
The Science of Meditation by Goleman and DavidsonI is probably the most informative book on meditation written in a very unbiased way. The second book that I would recommend to any one interested in mindfulness, meditation and vipassana is The Art of Living by S N Goenka. These two books are quite different but give you a very good understanding of meditation and its different dimensions. I also read 10% Happier by Dan Harris and enjoyed it for being a candid take on author’s personal journey of mindfulness. There are at least 5-6 books on Buddhism and Meditation that I started and could not finish. I think one of the key takeaway for me from this year is a deeper understanding of Meditation as I graduated from studying the theories to practicing it (although I had to stop after 4 months, but I am keen to take it to the next level).
The other topic that I spent quite some time this year was popular non-fiction dealing with climate change and sustainability. While this is the topic that is the focus of my professional life I am very curious about how popular fiction and non-fiction is dealing with one of the worst crisis that humanity is facing. The recent years have seen many books on climate change for common readers. The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace and This Changes Every Thing by Naomi Klein are two outstanding book on this topic. Two very different perspective but very readable and thought-provoking books. Highly recommended.
I finished three Hindi books as well. Reading Hindnaama- Ek Mahadesh ki Gaathaby Krishna Kalpit was very pleasant experience. This is part poetry, part prose; part history and part commentary on our history. Resplendent with erudition and incisive analysis. A must read.
I have been an Evernote user since 2008. Every time, I need to find a report, a document, receipts I search in my Evernote and it is there. Once I drag anything into Evernote I know that it is going to be there. The optical character reader (OCR) feature makes life so much easier. I can drag a PDF report in Evernote and can easily search the content of this PDF. This is an immensely valuable feature when your job requires going through numerous pdfs scouting for information. So for me Evernote is not a note taking tool but a repositories of my documents.
Evernote excels at what it is supposed to do and you can trust it to be there when you need it: online, offline, on mobile, on web, on Mac, On Windows.. It is everywhere. But a lot of things changed in last 12 years. We saw a number of apps coming and threatening Evernote and often excelled at one or another thing that Evernote does. Bear gave a brilliant writing interface; NimbusNote got some style and a few more bells and whistle than Evernote and then came Notion: the lego box that can be a note-taking app, a project management tool, a personal wiki.. the list goes on.
Now, the #RoamCult is taking over. RoamResearch is taking the note-taking to the next level. With its bi-directional linking and networked thoughts, this is something that is not Note-Taking but a learning and knowledge management tool that makes you think and collect knowledge bits without any kind of typology and structures. This is immensely helpful for the content creators and researchers. I work extensively on climate change and different development challenges and often putting a files into a particular structure or folder is very difficult. RoamResearch allows me to do that very well. But RoamResearch is not great for dumping all kind of content like we do in Evernote or for creating beautiful structured personal wiki as Notion.
But Evernote, RoamResearch and Notion together create a perfect knowledge management work-flow and system. My three step workflow is the following: Step 1: Everything goes into Evernote. Online articles, pdfs, my purchase receipts, critical documents. First landing place for any content. It is reliable, safe and available everywhere. And, the mobile app of Evernote is lightyears ahead of Notion and RoamResearch (in fact RoamResearch does not have a mobile app yet.).
Step 2: Synthesis of compiled content happens in RoamResearch. I review notes in Evernote, highlight them and bring the highlights and notes that I want to further use into RoamResearch. Here I process my notes to create a short summary in my own words. This also turns up into my CRM and ToDo list as it is quite intuitive. I can insert ToDo list and reference to different people easily in Roam.
Step 3: All the finalized content that I create goes into Notion in form of a personal wiki.
So far I am quite good with this flow. But I am looking forward to getting rid of one or other applications if they evolve further become one stop solution for my personal knowledge management.
The coming of the age, almost autobiographical, story of Vietnamese migrant Little Dog’s journey from war torn Vietnam to Hartford in USA, is a long poem in the guise of a novel. And thank god that this is done by Vuong and not by others. Not many would have produced something as endearing as this novel. Not every author is Ocean Vuong. This might be his debut novel but he is already a celebrated poet and a recipient of numerous awards including MacArthur Genius grant for his poetry/writing.
Little Dog might sound as a strange name but once I read the story behind his name, there was a tender familiarity that seeped through. Little Dog was named so to save him from bad things happening to him; making him undesirable so that death which prefers to take away the precious things ignores him. This is the practice which even I saw in many parts of our hinterland. Parents named their kid, after losing a few kids untimely, with names such as Fekan, Bechan, Lallu.. the most coveted kids had the most unwanted names.
The novel is in the form of a long letter written by Little Dog to his manicurist mother, who could not read. Little Dog and his mother both fought for dignity and self-esteem in an ‘English’ world with very little English in their kitty. But Little Dog grew up and he had a bellyful of English. And, this novel surely suggests the bellyful of English was also the beautiful English.
“In this nail salon, sorry is a tool one uses to pander until the word itself becomes currency. It no longer merely apologies but insists, reminds: I am here, right here, beneath you. It is the lowering of oneself so that client fells right, superior and charitable. In the nail salon, one’s definition of sorry is deranged into a new word entirely, one that’s charged and reused as both power and defacement at once. Being sorry pays, being sorry even, or especially, when one has no fault, is worth every self-deprecating syllable the mouth allows. Because the mouth must eat.” – From On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Little Dog’s fitful account of his life, memories, his sexuality and his rumination on his relationship with his mother and grand-mother is visceral. It is gorgeous not briefly but perennially. Ocean Vuong has poured his yearnings into a book that will be remembered for its sheer power to evoke unique and indescribable mix of emotions.
The lock-down has forced us to work from home and while some of us have been used to it (I used to work from home from 2015 to 2018 and still I find working from home more productive!) but a number of my friends have been finding it quite challenging. While there is a mental-shift required to be productive from a place that is typically considered to be a space for you and your family’s private time, there is also a lack of support/infrastructure that poses a challenge to be productive while working from home.
Since I have been experimenting with technology and gadgets to find the best productivity system, I always find that my home setup has been far more productive than my work setup. A lot of people have asked me about my home setup (Warning: I love tinkering with my systems and even an incremental value-add often matters to me. Result — I have many redundancies and multiple devices!) so here is a snapshot of what my work from home setup consists of.
I juggle between multiple machines. But the main workhorse is a desktop Chakra (Yes, my machines have got their own names, ) that I assembled myself; and this is quite a powerful machine for my use (Nova Benchmark Score of 2797). This is connected to a 27inch 4k display. It has 9th Gen Intel i7, 32 GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 1660 Graphics card. The processor and RAM are primarily needed for my occasional Photoshop and Lightroom (I have a massive library of more than 15k photos) work. I have a iMac 27” 5k as backup (I love the Retina display of that machine for colour accuracy) but the fusion drive in that machine sucks. My custom-built desktop has Samsung NVME 770 pro ssd harddrive that makes this whole setup a very zippy.
I have a couple of (in fact three if I include my office allocated machine) laptops that I use when I am on move. A 13” MacBook Pro Retina (Nandaka, this one quite old but still a great machine and I am waiting for Apple to fix the keyboard on MacBook Pro so that I can upgrade) and MacBook Air 2017 model. Apart from this tow Mac laptops, I have a Dell XPS 13 (Asi) with i7 and QHD touch screen display. While I have multiple machines but I have almost established use (apart from being a backup when one fails) for them.
At home and photo-editing: I need fast processing and a big screen, so it is primarily done on the Desktop.
Professional Travel for a day or two: MacBook Air. There is no better machine than this if you are in Apple ecosystem and crave for a good keyboard.
Personal travel for longer duration or vacations: MacBook Pro as I need a bit more firepower for photo editing needs.
The Dell XPS 13 is a backup in most cases or when I need to extract more juice from Excel, which is always better on a Windows machine.
I have a couple of mobile devices that I use along with these machines. I have the latest iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPad Pro (11 inch, 256Gbs) with Apple Pencil 2 and Keyboard. iPad is very handy for all the meetings and note taking. I am considering using this for my work travels for a day or so but did not find it that conducive when I need to work on reports or word docs. But with the mouse support just launched I am going to try this. These days of lockdown and work from home, I often use iPad for my video calls as it is much easier to carry and I use my laptops and desktops to quickly search information or files if needed for these calls. iPad also is my go to device for media consumption and for reading magazines and PDFs.
Apart from these machines, I use Logitech K850 keyboard and mouse combo. The keyboard allows me to wireless connect to 3 machine and I can use this as input to any of my laptops or desktop with just press of one button. I crave for a mechanical keyboard (I have a TVS Gold somewhere in my storage) but there are not many that can give me the ease that Logitech K850 gives. But, this is going to change. I am waiting for Das Keyboard 5Q. Nobody makes keyboards better than Das guys and this one is just drool-worthy.
For all the video calls, I use my Airpods 2 which have far better range and clarity than any other small wireless earphones. Also they seamlessly integrate in Macbook, Ipad, Iphone without any hassle. But these do not have great battery life; they don’t last more than 3 hours. I also have a couple of headphones (Sony WH1000XM3 and V-moda Crossfade Wireless 2) that I use as backup and for listening music. I have been using V-moda for quite sometime for its sound quality and multi-point Bluetooth connectivity. But Sony is the one I use on flights for its noise cancellation. It would replace my V-moda Crossfade the day it gets multipoint Bluetooth connection so that I can pair with a number of devices simultaneously. Sound quality is now almost at par.
Windows and MacOS: I am love to work on cross platform so I look for those solutions which integrate with multiple mobile and computing platform. Way back in early 2000, I experimented with Linux (Red Hat was the first distro I used) and Windows and got introduced to MacOS in 2007. Since then I have been a multiOS person. But now, it is mainly MacOS and Windows. Linux apart from being open-source does not add much value to my workflow.
Evernote:I have been a power user of Evernote since 2008. It has more than 4000 notes and I use it for file archiving and storing anything that I might need in future. The OCR feature and multi-platform availability makes it almost the best solutions for personal knowledge management. The one feature which is quite handy is that I can directly scan a business card and it stores the information in text format and sends a linked connection request to the person.
Microsoft 365— While there are multiple word processing software I used in past but this is the gold standard. I have subscription that gives me 1TB of storage space on OneDrive and all the office suite applications. But I use word processing software ‘as word processing software’ for editing my professional documents and not to write things.
OmniFocus: This is my preferred ToDo list app. But it might get redundant as I am trying to consolidate my workflow and Notion does allow me to manage my ToDo. The only problem with Notion is its mobile app.
Notion: I use Notion for my personal knowledge wiki and management. While earlier I was primarily dependent on Evernote for all the knowledge management needs but gradually I am using Evernote for note taking (with Penultimate it works great) and a lot of my knowledge management is happening on Notion.
Roam Research: This the note taking and personal knowledge management app of the future. But it is still in very early stage of its development. It has immense potential because of its contextual linking of text and bi-directional relationship of notes.
Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom: I use Lightroom to process my raw files and organize the photos that I have. I have quite a large library of photos and Lightroom’s catalog organizing capabilities are unparalleled. Adobe Photoshop is very rarely used. In fact, for photo retouching especially the portraits I use Luminar 4, and it is quite amazing for basic retouching.
Affinity Publisher: This is my preferred software (since InDesign is subscription based and I am not keen to pay for a subscription that I barely use) for designing anything. Quite cheap and very capable.
Calibre: The opensource and free software to manage the large library of pdfs and ebooks that I have. It also can run in server mode to help one access these files from anywhere.
Woven: This is in beta Calendar application that has some great features. I use this is to sync my Google Calendar.
Two internet connections (one with static IP address): I had learnt my lessons early when I started working from home. You cannot trust on one Internet connection. Airtel, one of the main service providers in my area has good reliability but it speed is yet not there. They are upgrading but not yet fully functional. So I have an Airtel which is only used for video calling and backup when my other connection does not work. The other connection has 300mbps speed. I also got a dedicated IP address which allows me to access my home cam and document library from anywhere. The high speed connection is hooked into Netgear Orbi ( a mesh router with one satellite) that has a lot of capabilities and provides very reliable connectivity in multiple rooms without any dead zones.
Private Internet Access: I have a subscription for a VPN service that allows me to use public wifi (hotels) cafe etc. without any security concerns. Not many people know but you are at great risk of losing your privacy and key data when you access any public wifi.
Apple Time Machine and One Drive: I have Apple Time Machine (Airport Extreme 2TB) and OneDrive configured to sync and backup all my key folders. This also allows me to seamlessly work from any device and not worry about duplication and data loss.
Apart from these online backups I do a regular offline backup almost every month on physical hard drive to ensure that I have a copy of my key files.
This was a post I used to write typically in the first or second week of January. But recently things have not been going in the usual way. I also used to provide a couple of line summaries and my take on the books that I read but that too seemed too much of effort. But I want to make sure that the list is here for archives and I get on with the things. This post was holding back a number of things that I wanted to write about.
While I am not going to write about each book that I read, however, there are somethings that can be generalized about my last year’s reading.
I did not get much time to read non-fiction. For me, non-fiction is serious reading and I do dedicate some time in my day for that but last year was a test for my time-management skills. While I completed only three books in the non-fiction category, I have a number of them unfinished. Last year, we had gone to Ramana Maharishi’s ashram and picked up a bagful of books. Ramana Maharishi is probably the only modern time sage who attracts me and evokes respect. So I spent good amount of time reading his books and his life story. The other theme that I read a lot (does not indicate in the list of books here as many of those books did not get completed) was climate change and air-pollution: these are not only my personal interest areas but also professional needs. But again, out of 10-15 books that I had planned to read last year on this topic, I could finish only three.
In the fiction category, there has been a conscious effort to read more Hindi books. And, I managed to read four books, including the epic-length Mujhe Chand Chahiye. I also risked picking up a book by young Hindi writers or Nayi Hindi authors and was quite surprised by Aughad.
Majority of fiction that I read this year were my flight reads or bedtime reading and I tried to finish some of the series that I was following, including a great series that turned into a disappointment by Dean Koontz. I also attempted an Indian crime fiction/whodunit by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay and it was good. Nine Perfect Strangers was a big disappointment and so was Blue Moon and The Silent Patient.
The two standout books of this year for me were Laburnum for My Head, a collection of short stories by Temsula Ao and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Eleanor Oliphant has been a rage last year so it got on my reading list but Temsula Ao was a finding from some random search and glad that I got this.
The Silent Patient By Alex Michaelides
Blue Moon By Lee Child
Laburnum for My Head By Temsula Ao
Mujhe Chand Chahiye (Hindi) By Surendra Varma
Tell No One By Harlan Coben
Rehan Par Raghu(Hindi) By Kashinath Singh
The Arsonist By Kiran Nagarkar
The Girl Who Lived Twice By David Lagercrantz
Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine By Gail Honeyman
Finding a place that gives you a space to think, great ‘chai’ and good inspiration is an indescribable pleasure. Tapri in Jaipur (www.tapri.net) is one such place.
When we walked into this place, it was just starting its morning hours and it has an ethereal charm of unoccupied, beautifully decorated space. The seats next to the big-windows overlooking a large open greanspace amidst of which Indian flag was swaying.. this was quite a site.
But what impressed me most is the dash of humour and a lot of thinking that Tapri has put into making their operation more environment friendly. We had paper straw, lampshades made of earthenware, chairs from locally available materials… Great work Tapri team.
Captured this from my car window while traveling from Rishikesh to Delhi. Right from Rishikesh to Delhi, the road was full of colorful Kanwars and Kanwariys. Dancing, chanting, running.. this was a sight to behold.
As a bibliophile who has been working on climate change for more than a decade, I found it surprising that there are very few books, especially mainstream books that talks about climate change. Well, this question bothered Amitav Ghosh as well and the result is a very erudite and immensely readable book: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. He asks one overarching question: Why our mainstream authors are writing on climate change?
“Let us make no mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis fo culture and thus of the imagination.” – Amitav Ghosh
It is not that there are no books on climate change but they are far and few and often in science fiction category. Ghosh wants climate change, one of the biggest phenomenon affecting humanity, to find more prominence in mainstream literature.
“When we see a green lawn that has been watered with desalinated water, in Abu Dhabi or Southern California or some other environment where people had once been content to spend their water thrifty in nurturing a single vine or shrub, we are looking at an expression of a yearning that may have been midwifed in the novels of Jane Austen” – Amitav Ghosh
But this books is not all about the above-mentioned question. Ghosh explores climate change and its portrayal in history and culture. And, his exploration is a brilliant read. His first hand experience of storm in his student life in Delhi in 1978, to his rumination over Mumbai and its vulnerability showcase what an accomplished author can do when they decide to write about a topic that is often confined to technical reports and scientific journals.
His take on role of liberal individualism, colonisations, imperialism and the greed for “Power” and their impact on climate change spans an entire section of the book. This is very educative for those who have not been immersed in the climate change and politics of climate change.
There is also a very interesting comparison of IPCC and Laudata Si– Pope Francis’s letter to all churches. Ghosh analyses these two documents, both published in 2015. The result is very interesting read!
Bottomline, if you are afraid of reading the boring, jargon-strewn drab narration on climate change, this is the book that you must read.
Dell XPS 13 range is marred with numerous problems right from the first edition to the latest model. I have written about the keyboard problem, the wifi problem, the sound card problem and what not. The sad part is that the solution provided by Dell is to replace the keyboard, or the motherboard if your device is in the warranty. But the warranty is only for a year. Recently, I struggled with my laptop when it display just went blank. The external monitor worked very well but not the inbuilt monitor. The online forums suggested many fixes: update the graphics driver, fresh installation, removing the battery, motherboard replacement.. .
Well, nothing worked perfectly other than the motherboard replacement, and that costs 200-400 USD. Forget about the solution, Dell guys are not able to figure out the problem. I found out a very low cost and effective solution if you are out of warranty and do not want to invest in a new motherboard. Get your motherboard completely cleaned, in fact, washed. You should not try to do it yourself but get a laptop technicians to do that. This solves the problem perfectly.